The Worst Final Four Bad Beat Ever: Remembering Chris Duhon’s Miracle Heave
Pictured: 2004 Duke team
- In 2004, Duke was a 2.5-point underdog against UConn in the Final Four.
- After blowing a lead late in the game, Duke was down four points with 3.2 seconds left in the game.
- Even though his team was dead in the game, Chris Duhon till heaved a half-court shot that has gone down in gambling history.
For Michael Jordan fans, “The Shot” is MJ over Ehlo or what happened after MJ shook Byron Russell. For college basketball fans, “The Shot” is Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper with no time remaining to beat Kentucky.
But to gamblers, “The Shot” is Chris Duhon’s 38-foot heave as time expired in the 2004 NCAA semifinal between Duke and UConn. Unlike the MJ and Laettner shots, Duhon’s shot didn’t win the game, but it meant so much to people who had money on the game.
The date was April 3, 2004, fifteen years ago this week. Duke was a 2.5-point underdog, but had a 75-67 lead with 3:15 to go. But the Huskies then scored 11 straight and were up three with 3.2 seconds left.
UConn’s Emeka Okafor went to the line. The game strategy would be to make the first and miss the second, which would put the Huskies up four and force Duke to take a rebound the entire distance with only a freaky chance to win. But Okafor did the opposite, missing the first and made the second.
Gamblers had UConn as 2-, 2.5- and 3-point favorites depending on when they bet it.
The ball was inbounded to Duhon, who had gone 0-for-5 from 3 so far in the game. He dribbled across half court and threw up a desperation running heave.
“You always throw up a shot even if you can’t win and you’re down 10 points,” Duhon told me in 2006.
The ball hit the backboard and banked in!
“It doesn’t matter,” broadcaster Jim Nantz told a national audience, as UConn had advanced to the final with a 79-78 victory.
But, to gamblers, it mattered plenty.
In a bar in New York City, a man sitting in a UConn jersey was not celebrating. As the TVs showed the Huskies soaking in the moment, his moment was very different. His team had won, but by one. He needed them to win by three.
As a young reporter working for ESPN, I was sitting at that bar, knowing what it meant, scrambled out of the bar to call oddsmaker Danny Sheridan. Sheridan said it was tough to call, because so much was bet illegally, but he thought the shot swung $30 million to $100 million in bets.
“There was more money riding on this game than the average NFL game and this one shot represented a monumental swing for the bettors and the sportsbooks,” said Jeff Sherman, who was then working for the Palms.
After the shot went in and he experienced a moment of jubilation, UConn’s Ben Gordon walked over to Duhon, who had just played his last college game, and picked him up off his knee.
“Real soon after, I started to hear people saying, ‘Man, I wish Duhon didn’t hit that shot,” Gordon told me years ago. “Everyone was upset about it. I didn’t understand it until somebody explained it all to me.”
“A couple reporters came up to me after the game and asked me if I knew the significance of the shot,” said Duhon, who is now an assistant basketball coach at Illinois State. “And I was like ‘I have no idea; what happened?’ And they said something like, ‘That Shot was worth a whole lot of money.”
“The Duhon shot is a bad beat if it happens in January in a Colonial League game,” said Scott Van Pelt, host of “SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt,” known for its “Bad Beats” segment. “The fact it was in the Final Four, and featured Duke, took it to an unforgettable, legendary level. Having said that, Duke was covering the entire game and had they not covered the game, it would have been a gross loss to take. Having said THAT, it was still a gross way to lose if you had UConn.”
Duhon said if he was given 25 chances to hit the same shot, that he’d likely only sink one.
But he did.
And 15 years later, his “meaningless” shot is seared into the brains of bettors, never to be forgotten.